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Hardcover | $40.00 Short | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780262013451 | 360 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 45 figures| January 2010

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Language and Equilibrium


In Language and Equilibrium, Prashant Parikh offers a new account of meaning for natural language. He argues that equilibrium, or balance among multiple interacting forces, is a key attribute of language and meaning and shows how to derive the meaning of an utterance from first principles by modeling it as a system of interdependent games.

His account results in a novel view of semantics and pragmatics and describes how both may be integrated with syntax. It considers many aspects of meaning—including literal meaning and implicature—and advances a detailed theory of definite descriptions as an application of the framework.

Language and Equilibrium is intended for a wide readership in the cognitive sciences, including philosophers, linguists, and artificial intelligence researchers as well as neuroscientists, psychologists, and economists interested in language and communication.

About the Author

Prashant Parikh is Senior Research Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania's Institute for Research in Cognitive Science and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Linguistics Department. He is the author of The Use of Language.


"Language and Equilibrium is the crowning achievement of a long line of research pioneered by Prashant Parikh. In this groundbreaking work Parikh introduces a fresh perspective on natural language pragmatics by making a creative tie with game theory. Clearly written, Language and Equilibrium weaves together semantics, game theory, and situation theory to create a thought-provoking picture of natural language pragmatics. All modern AI researchers interested in the foundations of natural language pragmatics owe it to themselves to become familiar with this picture."
Yoav Shoham, Computer Science Department, Stanford University

"The book is an intriguing mixture of linguistics, computer science, game theory, and philosophy. It does much to illuminate an enduring mystery: how language acquires meaning."
Eric S. Maskin, 2007 Nobel Laureate in Economics

"Language and Equilibrium is an extraordinarily ambitious and creative work whose goal is nothing less than a complete rethinking of the nature of linguistic meaning and the relationship between semantics and pragmatics. Starting with the intriguing idea that form-meaning correspondences are established through the delicate balance of the conflicting forces of syntactic, conventional, informational, and flow constraints, Parikh builds a formal model that offers a contextually-sensitive generalization of Fregean compositionality in terms of the fixed point of a game-theoretically defined mapping. Not only a technical tour de force, this work offers a novel perspective on fundamental issues in linguistics and philosophy of language, one which is deeply stimulating and rewards careful study."
Robert Frank, Yale University